BoaterTalk FAQ: Storing a Kayak
Storing a Kayakby Richard L. Hartman (rlhartman / RLH)
Last updated 21 Sep 2002
Modern planing hull kayaks can be sensitive to the way they are stored when not on the river. Kayak manufacturers will tell you that it is very difficult to mold thin plastic into a large flat surface area and make it stay flat. The rules of materials science conspire to make such surfaces want to warp in some way. The most common deformation is "oilcanning", where the planing surface becomes concave (depresses toward the interior of the kayak).
It is always more difficult to undo oilcanning than to cause it in the first place. Therefore, you should behave as if you're in a constant struggle against forces which dearly want to deform your planing surface. After all, your kayak is a $1000 investment, and it should be treated accordingly.
Improper transport or storage is likely the most common cause of planing surface deformation. Stress on the planing surface, combined with heat and time, are a recipe for oilcanning. Reducing any of the three - stress, heat, or time spent in storage - will reduce the likelihood of damage.
Obviously, the very best thing is to reduce the time spent in storage by spending as much time on the river in your kayak as possible [grin]. This has numerous side benefits for you, the paddler, which I won't bother to document here.
Presuming that you have already addressed that aspect of kayak storage, the next enemy to be addressed is heat. Kayaks should not be stored in direct sunlight, period. They should also not be stored in closed vehicles where temperatures can exceed 100 degrees F (and where sunlight can pour in through clear windows). Kayaks in storage prefer cool, dark places where they can quietly contemplate their next river outing with you. Enclosed garages are an excellent choice.
Reducing Stress on the Planing Surface
After time and heat, the last (and most insidious) enemy is stress - specifically stress to the planing surface. Planing surface stress comes primarily from gravity and the way the kayak's weight is transferred through its hull to whatever it is resting on. This is affected by the position in which the kayak is stored while at rest.
The grim reality is that there is no practical way to completely remove stress from the planing surface. (Floating your kayak in a pool of water would probably offset the effects of gravity, but this approach is limited to those who own indoor pools.) So the trick is to find a physical orientation which reduces planing surface stress to the greatest degree possible.
BEST: Standing Upright
The best storage position is upright on the stern, with the planing surface flush to the wall. This position minimizes stress on the planing surface, and also takes up the least floorspace. Standing up the kayak in a corner where it can rest against two walls is an easy, zero-installation approach.
Some kayaks will want to tip away from the wall when their stern is pushed close to the wall, and you will want to keep the kayak from falling to the left or right anyway, so you'll need some sort of rack-like device to keep it vertical. One inch Schedule 200 (thin wall) PVC pipe is great for this purpose: it's cheap, available at almost any hardware store, and the only required tool is a hacksaw. The cheap brackets used for mounting electrical conduit are perfect for holding the rack to a wall.
For a single kayak, build a PVC rectangle approximately 12x24 inches and attach it to the wall about five feet from the floor (adjust height depending upon bow profile). Don't even bother to glue the fittings - just pound them snug. This will take four 90 degree elbows and one ten foot section of one inch PVC, at a total cost of around five bucks. (If you're as nutty about your kayaks as I am, you'll spend a few extra dollars on that foam pipe insulation so your kayak will rest against padded surfaces!)
When storing the kayak, insert its bow from below and then push the stern toward the wall, which will push the bow up through the rectangle. Once the kayak is on its stern, the bow will be above the rack and won't fall out. To remove the kayak, lift it slightly off the floor and pull the stern away from the wall until the bow clears the rack.
For multiple kayaks, use a combination of T's and elbows to build as big a rack as you need. This is where not using glue pays off... if you need to expand your rack, just pull apart the existing one and add new parts as required!
I currently store four kayaks in only 16 square (2x8) feet of floor space using this approach. Each of the kayaks is individually accessible without rearranging the others. I can install/remove float bags or perform other cockpit work while the kayak remains in the rack. Very convenient, very cheap, and ideal for preventing oilcanning.
NEXT BEST: On its side
If you absolutely cannot stand the kayak up on its stern, the next choice is on its side on the floor. This reduces the stress on the planing surface (though not as much as the upright-stern orientation). Avoid the temptation to store objects on top of the kayak's upper sidewall... the idea is to reduce the stress on the planing surface, and adding weight will do just the opposite.
WORST CASE: Upside Down
If for some horrible reason (what, the kayak must fit under your bed?) you cannot store the kayak upright nor on its side, the only other practical option is upside down on its cockpit. Do not rest anything on the planing hull - doing so will utterly defeat the whole idea of reducing stress on the planing surface.
By this time it should be obvious that storing a planing hull kayak on the ground on its planing surface is a terrible choice. Doing so focuses the entire weight of the kayak directly on the area you're trying to protect. (Incidentally, carrying kayaks on roof racks in this manner is a bad idea too.)
Some people hang a kayak by its bow and stern, typically by attaching ropes to the grab loops. To analyze whether this is a low-stress environment, imagine what would happen if the plastic were softer: The kayak would start to "sag" in the middle because its weight is centered but it is only being supported at its ends. Well, that stress doesn't go away just because the plastic is stiff... the weight is still there, and those stresses are still there, stretching at the planing surface.